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Du holde Kunst

An addendum to my earlier post: I’ve written before about the knee-jerk romanticizing of the musician in, for instance, Ann Patchett’s novel Bel Canto; and someone yesterday mentioned Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus to me as another example. Here's a question: Does music tend to be idealized more than other arts in literary depictions? That is, are musicians more likely to be romantically portrayed than, say, painters; or does art about art generally partake of this self-glorification, whether it's about music, painting, dance? How many works of art about artists actually capture some of the reality of what they do, as opposed to The Wonder of it All?

One book that reflects opera’s over-the-top, mythical qualities and yet is also affectionately satirical is James McCourt’s Mawrdew Czgowchwz, which should be required reading for all opera buffs. István Szabo’s slightly less successful film “Meeting Venus,” with Glenn Close as the opera singer (with Kiri te Kanawa's voice), also at once romanticizes opera and brings it down to earth. Then there's E.M. Forster... Other nominees?

By Anne Midgette  |  April 22, 2010; 6:34 AM ET
Categories:  random musings  
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I'd say artists and musicians are glorified (and maybe writers): but dancers are usually portrayed with more grit, more similiar to sports movies. Probably because the camera can linger on all those taut muscles and bruises in the same way.

Posted by: ianw2 | April 22, 2010 8:25 AM | Report abuse

I think most writers are simply ignorant of music to the extent that they have no idea of what the outer or inner life of a musician (particularly a classical instrumentalist) actually is. One exception is Vikram Seth, whose "An Equal Music," which, despite its improbable conceit of a deaf pianist performing Bach's Kunst der Fuge, seems spot-on in depicting the lives of London chamber musicians.

Posted by: Lutoslawski | April 22, 2010 8:56 AM | Report abuse

On the topic of books/movies that portray artists but appear to provide a realistic depiction of what it takes to make art:

Three things come to mind. The Willa Cather novel, Song of the Lark, does a good job of portraying the societal obstacles the singer had to overcome.

The Chaim Potok novel, My Name is Asher Lev, addresses the drive of the artist to create his art versus the opposing requirements of the society he grew up in.

The movies Copying Beethoven, Pollock, and Vincent and Theo both do a great job of portraying the agony of creating art, the resulting messy, disorganized lives of the artists, and the impact on those who love the artists.

Posted by: c-clef | April 22, 2010 9:35 AM | Report abuse

I was going to mention "Copying Beethoven" as a fairly successful film effort, but that has already been mentioned. How about the film for teens and/or children, "Beethoven Lives Upstairs?" That seems to fit the traditional "Romantic" image of the great artist better.

We now have the opera "Clara Schumann," but we are still awaiting the film that will do justice to the Johannes Brahms - Clara Schumann - Robert Schumann troika.

Posted by: reithl | April 22, 2010 10:13 AM | Report abuse

I would argue that Haneke's "The Piano Teacher" sets out to destroy idealized notions of musicians.

Posted by: robertcostic | April 22, 2010 10:53 AM | Report abuse

In Shaffer's play, which is really about answering a religious question, Mozart breaks virtually every commandment. He has debts. He commits adultery against his fiancee/wife. He drinks to excess. He dishonors his father. He is propped up by Shaffer to be THE bad character. How is this a romantic view of an artist?

Posted by: prokaryote | April 22, 2010 1:27 PM | Report abuse

Docudramas on Elgar, Debussy, Delius and Mahler made for the BBC by Ken Russell are seared into my memory. Worth revisiting. A re-airing of the Mahler one to celebrate the sesquicentennial of his birth would be great. How about it WETA?

Posted by: bktabor | April 22, 2010 1:52 PM | Report abuse

Some great suggestions here.

prokaryote: The romanticizing in "Amadeus" lies in the idea that Mozart can create great works effortlessly, without really trying, because he's such a genius.

Posted by: MidgetteA | April 23, 2010 10:08 AM | Report abuse

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